back to article Apple wins patent on charging iThings THROUGH THIN AIR

A patent newly granted to Apple points to a future in which Cupertinian kit will charge over the air, without the need for cables. The company's US Patent 8,796,885 describes a near-field magnetic resonance (NFMR) system that would be able to wirelessly charge multiple nearby devices from a single base station (such as a …

  1. Number6

    Unless you can focus the field, magnetic charging is incredibly inefficient over significant distance because it's subject to a square law. It will be interesting to see how Apple have managed to come up with something novel, given the existing prior art in the field.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Inefficiency is irrelevant

      For powering extremely low power devices like a keyboard and a mouse. Of course, a really slick keyboard would generate power from the keypresses, and the mouse from the movement...

      1. DryBones
        Boffin

        Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

        Even if it consumes 5A @ 12VDC to supply 50mA @ 5VDC to one device?

        Inefficiency is never irrelevant, it simply varies in acceptability.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

          Energy inefficiency is important to a country. If every peripheral was powered this way we'd have to build a whole new power station just to run them. That doesn't make any sense, but then fanbois and Apple aren't responsible for energy supply.

          For example it's generally reckoned that all the TVs we leave on standby require a whole major power station all by themselves. If we banned the power button on TV remotes we could close that station down.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

            "If we banned the power button on TV remotes we could close that station down."

            Or go back 20 years when the remotes power button didn't send it into standby mode, It released the power button and physically turned the unit off. Of course having to walk to the telly to turn it on may be too hard for some people to cope with and society would slowly burn to a cinder.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

            I'm pretty sure the energy can be created in a green way.

            The alternative is batteries, which aren't good either.

            1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

              I'm pretty sure the energy can be created in a green way.

              Frogs on treadmills would be my choice.

          3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

            Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

            "For example it's generally reckoned that all the TVs we leave on standby require a whole major power station all by themselves. If we banned the power button on TV remotes we could close that station down."

            My telly uses about 1W on standby and I don't think it is particularly frugal. Unless you are talking about "we" as in humanity or a fairly small power station, the maths doesn't add up. However, when "standby" was invented about 40 years ago, tellys ran on valves and standby achieved its effects by keeping the valves warm. Maybe that's where this myth came from.

            1. Dig

              Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

              I though this but the numbers still add up to quite a bit. If I assume an average of 0.5 watts on standby I have 5 TVs so 2.5w. Assuming 25 million households with a similar number of sets gives 62.5megawatts. Not near the top of powerplant production but still sizeable. Ok I do turn off the sets at the switch but I'm probably in the minority. Add on all the mobile phone chargers laptop chargers microwave clocks etc etc etc and it all adds up.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Trollface

                Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

                5 TV's a water indeed, why would any single person need 5 TVs - hardly normal shirley?

                - why don't yer get a solar panel for all that charging, yes in daytime. And yes I do switch most things off when not in use, even led lights and who needs to let their Microwave stay on for the clock - have ye not heard of clockwork and as for lights well burning rushes do fine, now wheres that flint...

          4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

            it's generally reckoned that all the TVs we leave on standby require a whole major power station all by themselves

            I'm leery of "facts" that are "generally reckoned". Do you have a reliable source for that?

            If we banned the power button on TV remotes we could close that station down.

            LBL tests showed that CRT TV sets drew an average of 0.18W more when turned "off" via remote, versus off via switch on the set. Generation stations vary widely in their output, of course, so let's assume the general reckoning in question refers to a 1GW station. So you're saying there are 5.5 billion TV sets in use in the US? Seems high to me.

            Now, it's certainly possible that LCD TV sets have on average a greater disparity between off-by-remote and off-by-switch-on-set. But it's also quite possible that they don't.

        2. DougS Silver badge

          @DryBones

          In your example it is well under 1%. Yes, that level of efficiency would be a problem, but that seems a bit unrealistic.

          Plus I think you're massively overestimating the amount of power a keyboard would require.

          As for the guy who posted the xkcd link, it is interesting but he's talking about how silly it would be to power a laptop through keypresses, not a keyboard. Perhaps powering a keyboard through keypresses is still a bit out of the realm of possibility given how little power each keypress generates, but maybe we need keys that require firmer action so they generate more power :)

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: @DryBones

            maybe we need keys that require firmer action so they generate more power

            I learned to type on a mechanical (non-electric) typewriter. Good times. I suspect many users might find that much key force (and travel, if we wanted to reproduce the whole experience) difficult, though. And those who remember typing pools will recall that firm-action keyboards tend to be a bit noisy.

            Of course there are various folks who convert mechanical typewriters into computer keyboards.

      2. Oliver Mayes

        @DougS

        RE: Keyboard power:

        http://what-if.xkcd.com/102/

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

        If you really want to pay £150 for a keyboard and mouse then yes.

        People aren't prepared to spend money on such things.

        1. James Micallef Silver badge

          Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

          "If you really want to pay £150 for a keyboard and mouse then yes.

          People aren't prepared to spend money on such things."

          I'm sure you'll find that actually, for many Apple customers, they ARE prepared to do so

          1. NumptyScrub

            Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

            quote: "If you really want to pay £150 for a keyboard and mouse then yes.

            People aren't prepared to spend money on such things."

            I'm sure you'll find that actually, for many Apple customers, they ARE prepared to do so

            Not just Apple customers. Have a look at some of the keyboards and mice promoted as "high-end gaming" equipment, and you can spend £150 on the keyboard and another ton on the mouse.

            And they don't currently feature wireless charging for that price, either :)

            I'll take the 5th regarding how I am aware of such costly equipment aimed at gamers... ^^;

            1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

              Have a look at some of the keyboards and mice promoted as "high-end gaming" equipment, and you can spend £150 on the keyboard and another ton on the mouse.

              Fools. Everyone knows you can convert a regular mouse into a high-end gaming one by coloring it with a green marker.

        2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

          Re: Inefficiency is irrelevant

          People aren't prepared to spent money on pointless techno bling? Haven't met many Apple fanboiz, have you?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Thin Air?

      Thought that was what they wanted to call the iWatch?

    3. Fungus Bob Silver badge
      Coat

      Square Law

      "magnetic charging is incredibly inefficient over significant distance because it's subject to a square law"

      Not an issue here. Apple products all have *rounded* corners!

  2. jake Silver badge

    Prior art. Massive quantities of prior art.

    One more nail in what will hopefully become the coffin of the existing 'orribly, 'orribly b0rken US patent system.

    1. big_D Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Prior art. Massive quantities of prior art.

      My first thought, although we are talking about using the base to power the devices, not recharge them... Subtle difference - although if the base is sleeping, how are you going to use keyboard to wake? ;-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Prior art. Massive quantities of prior art.

        big_D, re-read TOA, specifically:

        "The company's US Patent 8,796,885 describes a near-field magnetic resonance (NFMR) system that would be able to wirelessly charge multiple nearby devices from a single base station (such as a desktop computer)."

        The wife & I received "his&hers" rechargeable toothbrushes as a wedding present umpteen years ago. They charged simultaneously from a single base station. Wirelessly. (Re-gifted unused, of course.)

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Prior art. Massive quantities of prior art.

          I have been using such toothbrushes for over 20 years...

          The "interesting" point was that devices like keyboards and mice wouldn't have a battery, they would be directly charged from the PC.

          I agree that wireless recharging is old hat, so I will be interested to see what exactly the USP is that allowed this to be patented. And if it really is just yet-another-wireless-charging-standard, then why bother, unless it is much more efficient, in which case they should submit it to one of the standards bodies. We don't need more wireless charging standards, we need fewer!

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Prior art. Massive quantities of prior art.

            "Charging" implies adding energy to a system for future use. As in "I tightened the screw to release the Nitrous Oxide, thus charging my whipped-cream dispenser".

            I see nothing that implies real-time power, sans local energy storage, in Apple's patent.

    2. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: Prior art. Massive quantities of prior art.

      "Prior art" is also what I thought... however prior art covers wireless charging of multiple devices at a very close range (or, I guess, very inefficiently at a greater range). If Apple have found a way to efficiently charge at a higher range that would definitely be worth a patent

      1. Frankee Llonnygog

        Re: Prior art. Massive quantities of prior art.

        Thumbs up for having actually RTFA.

  3. Crisp Silver badge

    Isn't this just existing technology

    But in an Apple product?

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Isn't this just existing technology

      Correct. But when you build a business on selling old rope as fantastic new technology you need some patents to cover up the frayed bits.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Er, hasn't a certain Mr Tesla already demonstrated this? And quite a while ago too...

  5. jaffa99
    WTF?

    Apple patent a 120-year-old invention, business as usual at Apple.

    In 1894 Nikola Tesla used resonant inductive coupling, also known as "electro-dynamic induction" to wirelessly light up phosphorescent and incandescent lamps at the 35 South Fifth Avenue laboratory, and later at the 46 E. Houston Street laboratory in New York City. In 1897 he patented a device called the high-voltage, resonance transformer or "Tesla coil." Transferring electrical energy from the primary coil to the secondary coil by resonant induction.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Apple patent a 120-year-old invention, business as usual at Apple.

      40ish years ago, I accidentally kicked in the 750 Watt linear amplifier connected to my CB radio ... and promptly outed myself. I was playing the "fox" in a fox-hunt ... and was parked under the awning of the Texaco station in the north-west corner of the San Antonio & Middlefield intersection on the Palo Alto/Mountain View border. The RF lit up the overhead fluorescent lights ...

  6. heyrick Silver badge

    will be charged using magnetic resonance from up to a meter away from the source

    Whoo, imagine the Ts&Cs on that product, to wiggle around health issues and the huge amounts of interference that it is likely to cause.

    I used to have a magnetic resonator that had a range of about a metre. It was a "wand" for degaussing cathode ray tubes...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps I'm being needlessly alarmist

    but if all goes as planned, and perhaps the world goes to power over the air, I don't believe that would be terribly healthy...

    1. Frankee Llonnygog

      Re: Perhaps I'm being needlessly alarmist

      Gosh what a disaster that would be. And imagine the health disaster that would occur if people started to send wireless telegraph messages across the ether. Ban these evil waves now!

  8. Ben XO

    Have none of you seen the Eric Giler TED talk about efficient magnetic resonance over long distances? He powers a TV set from 1m away using resonant AC (note how it takes a few seconds for the magnetic resonance to build up).

    It's induction that's inefficient over long distances. But magnetic resonance couples at specific frequencies - it's not just plain old induction.

    1. Christoph 1

      Ive seen this. I think everyone has missed the fact that resonance, as Ben says, is efficient (98.5% I think) and only draws power when under load. So if no devices are taking power it only takes a small amount of power to maintain the field.

  9. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    1m? Bah.

    That one-meter range is still a bit of a pipe dream, though.

    Not for my scheme, which involves a powerful fan at the base station and little wind farms on the receiving devices.

    And everyone knows wind farms are Green and the Way of the Future.

    For longer distances, I use an air compressor and air hoses, which are not, you'll note, wires.

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